Self-enforced Roadblocks on Capitol Hill

By Kylie Jacobsen

Everyone knows the familiar feeling they get when a political ad appears on their screens during the election season. Most of the time, we all roll our eyes as we are forced to watch yet another ad, as almost all ads feature promises and common party ideas. Republican campaigns all share a very common theme – cut spending in Washington. The Republican party consistently sends a message out to voters that cutting spending is a dire necessity, as the national debt now totals $17 trillion. Well-known party figures, such as Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, frequently demand spending cuts as well. However, does the Republican-led Congress actually deliver on these promises?

Today, we met with the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). He spoke to us about a variety of topics, such as rural poverty, nutrition, media’s portrayal of the government, and the SNAP program. However, the most fascinating topic for me was the problems between the USDA and Congress. I asked him to provide some examples of what issues the USDA and Congress face right now and in the future, and the response I received was something I never would have expected.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Photo from Wikipedia

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Vilsack began by saying “Have you ever heard of the phrase “The government should be run like a business?'” He discussed how there are thirty-one USDA offices throughout the country that only have part-time workers. Because these offices contain no full-time workers, they remain empty the majority of the time. The USDA proposed to Congress that these thirty-one offices be shut down and workers be relocated. Congress negated the idea, even though it would cut operating costs for the USDA. Vilsack was critical of the decision and implied that Republicans did not want angry, unemployed constituents preventing their reelection.

Vilsack, however, was not finished. He provided another example, this time discussing a work-flow study. This study was conducted by the USDA to maximize space utilization. In other words, offices which are less active would be shut down and workers would be moved to offices where there is a greater need, while new offices would be built in areas that were previously uninhabited. Although the USDA had already completed a study, Congress mandated that they complete a new study with an independent contractor. This new study would cost $600,000. Why would Congress want to spend more money on something that was not necessary?

I found the points made by Secretary Vilsack to be quite compelling. Although there are always personal interests at stake for members of Congress, I figured that a Republican-led Congress would have been interested in cutting spending when the opportunity was given to them. This, however, was not the case.

Secretary Vilsack speaking with Drake students. Photo taken by Austin Cannon

Secretary Vilsack speaking with Drake students. Photo by Austin Cannon

Although the Republican-led Congress may have blocked spending cuts from the USDA, Democrats are also guilty of going against party platform for personal reasons. For example, in 2008, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) almost didn’t pass because Nancy Pelosi withheld Democratic votes because she wanted the blame to be directed towards the Republicans. Once the Republicans began to withhold votes as well, both parties reached an agreement and passed the bill. Both parties are clearly to blame for this phenomenon.

Americans have complained about a lack of spending cuts for years now, and the Republicans have promised to restore a balanced budget on Capitol Hill. But, it is known that appearances can be deceiving, and the problems between the USDA and Congress exemplify this idea.

Secretary Vilsack poses with Drake students. Photo by Jill Van Wyke

Secretary Vilsack poses with Drake students. Photo by Jill Van Wyke

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